Review: “Bond Girl” goes for broke, ends up short

September 14, 2012

By Megan Miller
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

Erin Duffy’s “Bond Girl” does little to shed light on the mechanisms behind the financial collapse in 2008, although it does uphold the copious clichés about the years of excess leading to the downfall. Snapshots of sexual harassment, over-indulgence and trigger-happy traders are all par for the course in this oft-told “Devil Wears Prada” version of a female analyst’s first years on Wall Street.

While at first glorifying the world of Cromwell Pierce, the imagined mega-bank where the protagonist, Alex, is lucky enough to land a job as an analyst in her first year out of college, the young ingénue quickly becomes disillusioned by the demands of her job, even as rewards in the form of cash bonuses come in quickly. At the office Christmas party, after getting in a spat with a managing director over whether she is desirable enough for a bathroom quickie, she quickly learns the fastest way to the top for women who are at the bottom of the Wall Street pecking order.

Office life is portrayed as a mix of the mundane – juggling Starbucks orders for her desk – with the absurd – cabbing up to Harlem to pick up a $1,000 wheel of cheese – combined with sexual overtures: getting groped by portfolio managers who flash their corporate cards with gusto. Harassment is an accepted form of hazing.

Alex, though, is far from a feminist heroine. She is all too happy to play up her physical attributes in the hope of achieving higher status. It is hardly surprising that she finds that her fate is tied to male bosses who promote her through initiation rituals she passes with aplomb, although they are unrelated to her performance on the job. Her predicaments are often deplorable, but her response is to play right into the system she purports to dismiss.

Indeed, Duffy plays into every stereotype of the Wall Street femme fatale: all they care about is expensive shoes and handbags, they’d rather work for males that hit on them than women who have previously been in their own fancy shoes, and they’re pretty much willing to tolerate the male-dominated alpha culture as long as it results in a decent bonus at the end of the year. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for a character whose tough days in the office end with tears in a chauffeured town car and sorrows drowned in wine delivered to her West Village apartment.

Oh yes, there is the financial crisis of 2008 and the expected tale of redemption: disillusionment followed by an epiphany and reprioritizing. But Alex’s new and better life is almost as shallow as her old, if less testosterone-driven: she resolves to chronicle all of her misadventures. Presumably, we are the lucky audience who gets to read the manuscript.

Duffy has written a “Fifty Shades of Grey” lite, another story of female fantasy and domination in a post-women’s-liberation world. The protagonist purports to be an evolved modern-day working gal, but under the façade she turns out to be a scared girl who runs into the arms of the nearest alpha male in sight.

 

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